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Cambridge SoundWorks i525 review: Cambridge SoundWorks i525

Cambridge SoundWorks i525

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
4 min read

There certainly isn't any shortage of AM/FM iPod-compatible radios these days; it seems we review five a month as it is. Though they all seem to share a very similar feature set, we're always surprised by the varying sound quality found across the board.


Cambridge SoundWorks i525

The Good

Dual alarm clock; AM/FM radio; iPod dock; works with iPhone, too (unofficially); full iPod navigation via remote; can control some iPhone-iPod Touch apps; Creative X-Fi sound-processing technology presets.

The Bad

Not portable; remote feels a bit flimsy.

The Bottom Line

Though its $150 price tag places it among the more-expensive devices on the market, its great sound, feature set, and comprehensive iPod control make the i525 a worthy AM/FM iPod alarm clock radio.

With the i525 from Cambridge Soundworks, we've not only found an impressive-sounding radio in a small chassis, but also an easy-to-use, highly capable unit that won't break the bank.

Measuring 3.5 inches high by 10 inches wide by 6 inches deep, the i525 is small enough to rest easily on a nightstand or end table, and its black-matte encasing is sure to mesh with most bedrooms and living rooms. For those looking to keep the i525 in the bedroom as an alarm clock, the eight varying levels of brightness should accommodate anyone.

All the various features and controls can be found on top of the i525, including the volume wheel and iPod dock. A headphone jack is placed on the right side of the radio, and an auxiliary input and AM/FM antennas are around back.

The auxiliary input and AM/FM antenna connections are around back.

The i525 features dual alarms and all of the standard settings we've come to expect from these types of devices. Alarms can be set to either iPod playback or a specific AM/FM radio channel, and there's also an option to decide at what volume you're woken up to.

The spotlight feature on the i525 has to be its onboard Creative-branded X-Fi audio-processing technology that is supposed to enhance audio quality using different settings. "Crystalizer" is designed to help MP3s and other compressed-audio formats by restoring information lost in the compression process. We certainly could hear an immediate difference using the setting, and, for the most part, we enjoyed the change.

"Virtual Surround" is designed to create the illusion that the music is no longer coming from the i525 itself, thus creating a virtual surround sound effect. Unfortunately, this was the only mode that we really didn't notice much in terms of the desired result.

"Smart Volume" works more like a solid noise reduction filter, which really helped when we wanted the i525 to maintain a certain level of sound without having to reach for the remote to adjust the volume.

These X-Fi effects can also be mixed and matched depending on preference. In our testing, we found ourselves using the Crystalizer on the radio and left them off when using an iPod or auxiliary source.

Performancewise the i525 really delivers. An impressive amount of sound emanates from this small box, easily filling up our 18-foot-by-18-foot bedroom and 25-foot-by-25-foot audio testing room. From Green Day and Kings of Leon to Lady Gaga and The Cure, the i525 handled everything with ease. We were able to tweak bass and treble settings on-the-fly, which let us find that optimal zone for the best-sounding result. We'd easily put the i525's sound quality up against the $250 Boston Acoustics Duo-i plus.

There's a surprising amount of bass output here, and turning the volume all the way up never resulted in a harsh distortion or tearing. In fact, it's here where the i525 really shines. It's not exactly portable, but if there's access to an outlet on a deck or patio, the i525 could easily entertain at a barbecue.

A plastic remote control is included, and though it feels a bit on the flimsy side, we had no issues with its performance. In fact, we were really happy with how well it controlled our iPod and iPhone, and even the apps therein. We'll get into the details of that experience next.

The remote may look cheap, but it's very functional.

Like a lot of the iPod-compatible radios we've tested, the i525 only claims compatibility with iPods and not necessarily iPhones, because of the lack of shielding that requires the user to switch the phone to airplane mode.

With the i525, we experienced the same preliminary issue, but didn't need to do much other than dismiss our iPhone 4's alert that the product wasn't compatible. After that, it was smooth sailing, as we were able to comprehensively navigate through our iPhone's music library, including artists, songs, and genres--something we don't usually see on a lot of these radios. Even more impressive, we had no issues using the remote control to advance tracks in the Pandora and the Last.fm iPhone apps.

Overall, the i525 is an impressive, fully featured package. Its $150 price tag places it among the more-expensive devices on the market, but its great sound, feature set, and comprehensive iPod control make it worthy of such an investment.


Cambridge SoundWorks i525

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 8